Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas Launched a historic state visit to Israel this week, saying he was ashamed of his country’s participation in the murder of Jews during World War II.
Brazauskas arrived in Israel on Tuesday with a delegation of 29 businessmen and his foreign minister for a three-day trip aimed at boosting ties between the two countries.
Both Lithuania’s role in the Nazi extermination of Jews, and its more recent dealing with former Nazi criminals cast a shadow on the trip.
His visit came in the wake of a controversy over Lithuania’s decision not to prosecute Aleksandras Lileikis, an 87-year-old Massachusetts man whom the U.S. Justice Department is seeking to deport.
As head of the Vilnius Gestapo, Lileikis played a significant role in the death of tens of thousands of Jews, according to the Justice Department.
After initially saying they did not have enough evidence to prosecute Lileikis, Lithuanian officials announced last week that it would reopen the case.
During a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial here, Brazauskas told protesters that his country would prosecute Lithuanian war criminals.
But the country’s rehabilitation policy remains in effect. Dozens of people convicted by the Soviet Union for collaborating with the Nazis were later pardoned by the Lithuanian government.
Eprhaim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, told Israel Television that Lithuania had not brought any war criminals to trial since its independence in 1991. Lileikis would be the first.
Officials of the two countries were scheduled to discuss issues relating to cooperation in health and medical issues. The visiting leader was scheduled to meet with the Israeli prime minister and foreign minister, and address the Knesset.
Israeli imports from Lithuania, mostly fuel and coal, totaled $61.9 million in 1994. Exports to Lithuania, mostly food, metals, machinery and instruments, totaled $156.8 million.